The sibling Stax and Volt labels, based in Memphis, were the down-and-dirty answer to Motown Records, speaking unpasteurized truth with ragged authority. Sam and Dave, Carla Thomas and that nonpareil house band, Booker T. and the MG’s, were among the Stax-Volt stars, but Otis Redding was their prime minister, with a voice whose aching power suggested both preacher and sinner. Raised in Macon, Ga., and spurred into music by his admiration for local hero Little Richard, Redding packed decades of raw artistry—such Rushmores of yearning as “That’s How Strong My Life Is,” “Try a Little Tenderness” and “Respect”—into his four years on Volt before his death at 26 in a 1967 plane crash.
The title of his best song, written with Impressions front man Jerry Butler, sounds like the first phrase of a Dear John letter—the prelude to a kiss-off. But it’s really a declaration of dependency: “I’ve been loving you too long to stop now.” The woman in a veteran couple is restless and ready to move on, so the singer engages in pleas, threats and mournfully acute observations: “My love is growing stronger as our affair grows old.” That the song could also be about heroin (“You become a habit to me”) cements the similarity of Redding’s lament to Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”: both say that passion is a dangerous drug that the addict doesn’t want to be cured of. Wailing this waltz played in funeral tempo, and backed by a horn section blaring long, mournful notes like a monotone ambulance siren, Redding piles up the agitation until he’s screaming for validation, for pity, for any sign that a lover will be able to sustain the torture he craves.
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